Keflezighi sets pace for half-marathoners

Typically, when Meb Keflezighi runs, he’s not messing around. He wants to go fast, and he wants to leave his foes gasping for air.

The renowned American runner won the New York City Marathon in 2009, took a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic marathon and was fourth this past summer in the marathon at the London Games. He loves to compete, and rarely gets a chance to take a leisurely stroll.

But he got to do just that Sunday night in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half-Marathon. In doing so, he got to help dozens, perhaps hundreds of runners, meet their goal in the half-marathon.

Keflezighi served as the pace runner for the group looking to finish in 1 hour, 30 minutes – a stroll in the park for him, but a respectable time for most half-marathoners.

“This is probably only the third time I’ve done that,” Keflezighi said. “For me, it’s very easy, but for them, it’s not easy. You have to be respectful of that. During the race, we chatted together, worked on our form. It was a blast. I had a good time.”

And Keflezighi’s pace was right on time – he crossed the line in 1:29:50. In the process, he had to overcome the urge to put the hammer down.

“I wanted to go. I’m a competitor. But they wanted 1:30, and I got them 1:30,” he said. “I knew I could keep that pace, and a lot of guys and gals did keep up.”

It was the first time Keflezighi, 37, competed in Las Vegas since his days as a San Diego high schooler, when his team used to come up once a year for a meet at Eldorado. He was blown away by the atmosphere on the Strip for the night race.

“I enjoyed every view of it,” he said. “I was looking around and taking it all in. Usually, you can’t do that because you’re competing. But tonight, the whole object was to help people and enjoy the scenery. Mission accomplished.”

■ PAYTON’S NEW PLACE – New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has had plenty of time on his hands this season while serving a league-mandated suspension.

Payton found a way to fill his time on this particular Sunday as a surprise participant in the half-marathon. Race organizers didn’t realize Payton had entered until race day, when he picked up his bib.

Payton wasn’t available to the media, but finished the half-marathon in 2:18:31, clicking off the 13.1 miles at an average pace of 10:35 per mile.

■ WHEELY BIG DEAL – The men’s wheelchair division of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon was one of the most hotly contested. Brad Ray of Loveland, Colo., and Eric Kaiser of Santa Barbara, Calif., waged a two-man battle, with Ray narrowly winning out in 1:55:37. Kaiser was just three seconds back.

The wind proved to be the most difficult foe for both racers. Much of the first half of the 26.2-mile race featured a tailwind, but that meant much of the second half was into a brutal headwind, particularly in the final few miles to the finish line at The Mirage.

“It was torture,” Ray said. “We had such a fast first half – 46, 47 minutes. And then we just sucked wind all the way back.”

Kaiser had no issue with second place, after overcoming the wind and a big deficit.

“He was probably 400 meters ahead of me at one point,” Kaiser said. “That’s a pretty fair time for this wind.”

Contact reporter Patrick Everson at or 702-383-0353.

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